I grew up around the water. Family holidays were spent pottering around on our boat in the Hauraki Gulf, or making sandcastles in Whangamata with my cousins. There was a time where the only summer pocket money I earned was for completing the $10 challenge, a series of water based ‘survival’ challenges off the back of the boat. We were always taught that while the ocean was beautiful, and could provide hours of wonder and fun, it was also to be treated with the utmost respect.
I was fortunate enough to grow up close to Mount Maunganui, one of the best beaches in the country. The stunning white sand and clear blue water formed the backdrop of my childhood. Family meals on Pilot Bay punctuated long summer days, and chilly beach walks kept us lively over winter. Adventure was always hand in hand with the ocean.
When I moved to Wellington I found a new love in the rugged South Coast. As often as I could I would make my way out to the coast and watch the waves crash heavily on the rocks and coarse sandy beaches. There is nothing quite like the wild South Coast during a storm to make you feel alive.
These two very different spots in New Zealand serve as the perfect example of the diversity of the ocean. Two beaches on the same coastline can be completely contrasting. The marine life and underwater environments just a few hundred kilometers apart can look like two totally different worlds. The rich and varied worlds that make up the oceans are just one of the reasons why I have come to love it.
Some of this diversity however reveals the sad reality that may end up being the future of the ocean. I was recently staying on the ‘unpopulated’ side of one of Thailand’s more remote islands. My friends and I took a swim as the sun was setting over the Gulf of Thailand, something that should have been a truly magical moment. While the photos may seem pristine, I was shocked to find plastic bags tangled around my ankles and rubbish being caught up in the crush of the waves. A closer inspection of the beach revealed tiny bits of plastic so thoroughly a part of the sand that I hadn’t even noticed them before. I’d never seen pollution like this, and it has left me with very tainted memories of this beautiful country.
I have always found myself to be in awe of the way that being immersed in nature can make you forget every problem that you are holding on to. Ever since I was little, I have been saying that my dream was to be a conservationist. Most people wanted to be firefighters, or princesses, but me as a stubborn 8 year old was totally convinced that I would be a conservationist. A few years, a bit more life experience and some questionable education choices later and I guess I might be getting closer.
It wasn't until university that I realised quite the extent of threat that the environment faces though pollution, exploitation of resources and climate change. The thought of generations after me not being able to experience the same nature that I have grown up with didn't sit well with me at all. A fire was lit in me to protect our water, whether it be freshwater or the ocean.
I feel very lucky to be from a place that has not yet been subject to the pollution and degradation we see on the international scale, and I want to make sure that New Zealand never reaches that point. Better yet, I want to be a part of a group of changemakers that help other countries to protect their ocean's too.
In New Zealand I believe we are in a unique position to drive change to better protect our marine resources. We are a nation that has the ocean deeply rooted in our culture and our identity. The furthest away from the ocean you can get in our country is about 120 km. We have grown up at the beach, on the boat, fishing off the wharf and swimming in the clear blue waters. We care about our Ocean as it is a part of who we are.
There seems to me to be a growing disconnect between humans and the natural environment. Nature is so often depicted as being separate from us, something that can be saved for a weekend excursion out in the bush. Many people view the ocean as separating humans from one another, vast blue expanses that separate culture and people. In reality, the ocean is the one thing that connects us as people, and brings us all together.
Humans and nature are two co-existing forces that are in a constant struggle to find a balance that allows both to survive. If we don't respect this balance then one side of the equation loses out, and right now that is the environment. We have a responsibility to ensure that we don’t tip that balance too far.
The reality is that we are not doing enough. The best time to act was 20 years ago. The second best time to act is now.
All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute.